We've moved from Baltimore, Maryland USA to Venice, Italy in pursuit of living our dream!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Celebrating the Festa de San Martino

Today is the Festa di San Martino - St. Martin's Day. In Venice this festa is a big, big deal, and over the years it has become one of my favorite celebrations every November.  I am very fortunate that I live not far from Campo San Martino and the Chiesa di San Martino, and get a constant reminder of this saint whenever I'm passing by.

St. Martin's story goes something like this: In the 4th century, Saint Martin met a starving, freezing beggar at the gates of the city of Amiens. He cut his cloak in two with his sword and gave half to the man. For that reason, Martin is a saint associated with the poor. It is also said that at the moment he tore his cloak, the sun came out and that is why an Indian summer here is known as an estate di san Martino.The 11th November is the festa of this favorite saint and traditionally the day when the novello [new] wine is opened.

St. Martin
San Martino bas relief on the wall of the Church of San Martino, Castello

Every November 11 the children of Venice re-enact St. Martin by dressing up in red cloaks and "Burger King" style crowns, banging on their mother's pots and pans while parading through their neighborhoods. Stops are made at the local shops canvassing for goodies. Sort of like Halloween but everyone dresses the same. 

San Martino cookies line the windows of every bakery in town starting a couple of weeks before the holiday. How could you not love San Martino day, when you knew there would be some fabulous cookie waiting for you at home? 

S Martino Cookie

S. Martino cookie 2

S. Martino cookie 3

S. Martino Cookie 4

S. Martino cookie 5

S. Martino cookie 6

San Martino cookie 7

San Martino cookie 8

Have you picked the one going home with you this year? 

I noticed my local hardware store was selling cookie molds for every size San Martino day horse cookie you could imagine, from a grand one over a foot tall to very tiny individual ones. Perfect if you love making cookies. 

Should you find yourself in the neighborhood of Campo San Martino this weekend, here's the list of activities going on during the festa. Tomorrow between 4pm-8:30 there will be food and wine served in the campo. Look for me there!

Happy Festa de San Martino!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Arnold- the Aftermath

Arnold and Mike
Arnold and Mike in Venice

It certainly has been an emotional week!  You already know the results of the Presidential Election in the US so I won't have to get into that topic.  While that was going on, we had the big "Arnold in Venice" reunion happening in full force, which on many levels was a much happier event, so I'll talk about that. 

As I'd mentioned in my previous post, we hadn't seen Arnold in 16 years. I was apprehensive for this Venice meet up, to say the least! The original idea was for Arnold to stay at our place, however he was also bringing his girlfriend/partner. Given our apartment most likely wouldn't provide the privacy they'd want for a romantic holiday in Venice, coupled with the fact he'd have a long haul from our place early in the morning to catch a shuttle to the airport, he decided to stay in a hotel. He chose something close to the train station, wouldn't you know it? Couldn't get any farther away from our apartment than that! So, on arrival day the plan was he would check in to his hotel in Cannaregio, hop on a vaporetto and meet us at the San Pietro vaporetto dock. From there we were going to walk, see Venice, and eat. 

He spotted me first as he came off the boat, I heard him exclaim loudly, "Karen!". Our eyes met. A huge smile broke out across his face. On mine too.  He grabbed me for two kisses on the cheek and a hug. We both just clung to each other, longer than the normal hug-time, so happy to be reconnecting. After finally untangling our arms, Arnold reached over and did the same with Mike. We all just gave each other a long examining look, beaming like silly kids. Then he introduced Sondra, his girlfriend, and the hugs began anew.  He looks the same as I remembered him, except there's a bit of grey hair now. 

Of course we had to get through the requisite "How are you?"s.  Once past that, Arnold wanted to know how in the world we ever got to Venice to live. Interesting question!  My response was "It all started with you."  I had to explain, because the last time we saw him was on our trip to Germany, the one that was a thank you gift for putting up with him for a summer.  He didn't know that we had followed that trip with numerous vacations to Italy, as we'd gotten out of touch for several years. Since moving to Venice we've heard from him more often. 

Throughout the short 2 day visit, there was lots of reminiscing. Mike and I were completely amazed at the little details Arnold recalled that we had forgotten, or never expected him to have memories of from so long ago. Little things like the name of Mike's dog (that Mike only had for a brief visitation )- long story- while Arnold was with us, or the strange old man Leroy, who did yard work for us.  I didn't even remember that at all!  He asked about all the people he'd met while with us in Baltimore - my daughters, our neighbors, Mike's law partner, the secretary who worked at Mike's office. The stories just flowed, as did the laughter, followed by tears of joy because the three of us just couldn't stop laughing. I felt so sorry for poor Sondra, and for the people around us at cafes and restaurants. 

I was curious what Arnold had thought about his  US experiences, if he had any fears about going to a foreign country to be with strangers for 3 months. He explained that he wasn't afraid. He was excited. And he knew it might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. When would he get an extended block of time to do something like that ever again? He described his expectation of staying with a "normal" American family, one that ate "Wonder Bread and fried chicken" (his words).   Poor guy!  I was sorry  he didn't get what he had wanted, but he just beamed and said "But I got so much more!  And you ate French bread! "

I could go on and on, relating details of the stories we shared but those are only special to us, so I won't. I didn't want to see him leave. I wanted him to stay for another 3 months! I'm still smiling today thinking about the last few days together.

Arnold and Sondra saw LOTS of Venice, all the must sees and much more of our favorite local places. We ate well, drank lots and shared moments we'll not forget. We all vowed to do this again, and not wait 16 years for it.  I was touched to know that Arnold's memories matched ours, that all three of us felt a special connection back then, and still today. That warmed my heart. Now we can add another special Venice experience to our collective memories. Can't ask for more than that.

Note- the hotel Arnold stayed at : Eurostar Residenza Cannaregio.  He and Sondra raved about it. They got some pretty fabulous rates, and the hotel even has a bar. Passing this tidbit on in case anyone is ever looking for a good Venice hotel recommendation. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Return of Arnold

Not a day goes by that someone doesn't ask me to explain what prompted our move to Venice. My response is always that we'd vacationed here for several years, fell in love with the city, and decided life is too short to stay on the corporate hamster wheel we felt trapped on in the US. This slow life suited where we wanted to be for the remainder of our days, so we chose to jump off that wheel. And here we are.

Ah, Venice!
Ah, Venice!

However, truth be told, that explanation is the Readers Digest condensed version.  The real story involves a young 22 yr old German law student we met about 18 years ago.  So, for the first time ever, I'm exposing a bit more of our past, and the truth is being shared here with the entire blogosphere. (Heaven help me!)

Turn back the calendar to 1999......

My husband agreed to sponsor a 3-month internship for a German exchange student  at his law office near Baltimore, at the request of one of his clients. The client's mother's best friend's son (how's that for a mouth full) wanted to do his required internship somewhere in the United States, and Mike's client's mother put a little pressure on him to find something for this boy. Naturally, he asked his lawyer, Mike, who happens to be fluent in German, to help bail him out of a tough spot with his mother. You know all about mother's guilt trips. 

While there would be nothing this German student could do to assist with any legal matters during his stay, he could be put to use delivering documents to the court or miscellaneous tasks around the office. And, as this was to be funded by the German government as a required part of every law student's schooling, there would be no expense on Mike's part. Everyone agreed to the plan, and the deal was sealed. For the summer months of 1999, Arnold would be interning in the US. And all the German mothers were smiling.

What I haven't mentioned is the deal included Mike and I hosting this young man in our house for the first few days to help him get acclimated, arrange a short term apartment nearby and a rental car. Arnold, however, had other plans in mind, which he shared after his arrival.  You see, Arnold wanted to use the stipend he would be receiving for living expenses to travel all over the USA instead. He had his mini-bucket list prepared-Los Angeles, Boston, New York City, New Orleans, Chicago, Dallas, Miami.  The problem was he didn't have much in the way of funds other than his stipend, and that was needed to pay for an apartment and car. Arnold proposed that he extend his living with us beyond the few initial days instead of renting an apartment, and he could commute to work with Mike every day. Voila.  He could use the stipend money to travel while living rent free with us.  And, he really didn't expect to work very much, as that would interfere with his "Arnold Does America" grand tour plans. Such a plan!

Mike was all in favor of it. I, on the other hand, was less receptive, for two reasons. One, this was a total stranger staying in our home for 3 months, and I'm not immediately trusting of anyone. And two, perhaps even more of a showstopper might be that said Arnold was a moose. Seriously. I'm talking a big boy. A really big boy, who obviously consumed A LOT of food. I could not fathom what my grocery bill would be for the next 3 months. The only saving grace might be that he intended to be on the road traveling now and then. My counter proposal to Arnold was that he kick in a small amount each week for groceries. We struck a bargain.  Arnold was going to see the USA and Karen got some milk money. Win-Win. 

While I began the summer of 1999 with great trepidation, in actuality it turned out to be one of the best experiences of our lives. Arnold wasn't always a peach to live with, but who doesn't have their days? During the long summer evenings on the upper deck over dinners, wine, shared stories and lots of laughs, we forged lifelong friendships. I wouldn't have changed a thing. Little did I know then that EVERYTHING would change. Bigly (yes, that is a tongue-in-cheek borrow from You-Know-Who). 

About six months after Arnold returned to the motherland, a courier delivered an envelope to our front door addressed to Mike.  Inside the envelope, to our great surprise, was a voucher from a travel agent for round trip air for two and some additional dollars to be used for a trip to Germany-a thank you gift from that client who had instigated the whole Arnold internship, for all we had done for Arnold and for him. Karma, he said.  He knew Mike, of German ancestry, is a Beethoven fanatic who dreamed of visiting Bonn, the birthplace of the musical genius.  He was sending us there. 

I had never been to Europe before but had always dreamed of visiting Italy where my family is from, so naturally, I begged to split the trip between Germany and Italy. I was overruled, however, a compromise was struck.  We'd go to Germany, and then save money for a trip to Italy sometime in the near future. 

In March 2000 we did that Germany trip to not only Bonn but to numerous cities, including a couple of days with Arnold and his family. Upon our return home the Italy fund jar took up residence on our kitchen counter.  Promises kept, not long after our first Italian holiday began with a flight into Venice from JFK and our first (too short) visit in this magical city. 

 Everything really began with Arnold. If it weren't for him and our summer of 1999, we wouldn't have gone to Germany and I wouldn't have made that bargain for a subsequent trip to Italy. I know us.  Europe wasn't on our horizons at the time. We were not only mired in "this Old House" renovations but I was still making monthly payments to my divorce lawyer.  If we did take any vacations it was to the beach. Experiencing Europe for the first time adjusted our priority list dramatically, moving travel in general and Italy more specifically way up on that list.   As if this is any surprise, Venice stole both our hearts and our souls.  You know the rest of that story. 

 Bringing this back full circle, fast forward to tomorrow....

 Tomorrow morning, HE will be arriving for a couple of days. We haven't seen Arnold in 16 years!  I'm excited, anxious, and frankly over-the-moon to be having this very long overdue reunion, in Venice no less,  with the person who unbeknownst to him was a game changer in my life.  

And that's really how the Venice experience began. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Remembering November 4, 1966

Fifty years ago, Venice experienced the highest acqua alta (high water) in history.  Today the city remembers.  Throughout the day today on Facebook and other social media, numerous old photos were posted, calling attention to a day no living Venetian will ever forget. 

I took a walk through St. Mark's square this morning, specifically to hunt for high water markings. 

The blue line added to the shop window marks the water level on November 4, 1966. Shockingly high, isn't it?  I have witnessed unusually high water during my time here in the city, but nothing quite this height.

This mark, on the side of the bell tower in the square, permanently records the water level on that date. I have no idea why I didn't frame this shot better, so you could see how high off the ground this actually is. I was intent on getting a good view of the marker. Next time you are in St. Mark's square, try to locate it so you see the height for yourself. 

Fifty years ago today, water changed the course of Venetians lives. And ever since then, the city struggles with how to cope with the increasing levels of water it experiences as global warming adds to both the height of the tides and also the number of occurrences of acqua alta every season.

As someone who fell under Venice's seductive spell, I have always found acqua alta to be an integral part of everything this city is. It just wouldn't be Venice without water- and that includes the rising tides.  I fell in love and have been having this crazy ongoing love affair with Venice.  Just like having any lover, you accept the good with the bad. High water is both fascinating and frustrating, mysterious and maddening.  

This is the vaporetto dock at Sant'Elena on November 4, 1966 

A gondola ride - in St. Mark's square? 

At Campo San Salvador